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December 18, 2014

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With economy sagging, valley museum attendance on the rise

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Justin M. Bowen

Taj Snavely plays with the bubble feature at Lied Children’s Museum earlier this month. Area museums are reporting a rise in attendance as people seek out inexpensive entertainment.

Lied Discovery Children's Museum (3-10-2009)

Brianna Reed, left and Abigail Johnson, tend to the vehicle inside the car exhibit the newly opened Green Village display at the Lied Discovery Childrens Museum on Tuesday, March 10, 2009. The 3,500 square-foot mini-city has an environmentally friendly focus that includes exhibits with lessons in everyday living and environmental sustainability. Launch slideshow »

Officials at the Lied Children’s Museum said they’ve seen a 100 percent increase in patrons during the past four years, with the numbers continuing to climb throughout the recession.

It’s a trend at many museums in the Las Vegas Valley. They are seeing greater attendance as locals seek cheap ways to have fun with their families without leaving Las Vegas, museum operators said.

“I think Las Vegas is growing, maybe in a different way that in has in the last 20 years,” said Lied Children’s Museum Spokesman Brock Radke.

Now that the population growth has slowed, it’s time to begin filling out the city’s cultural offerings, he said. The public is showing there’s a demand for them, he said.

The valley’s municipalities already are doing it through projects such as The Smith Center, which will be a world-class performing-arts center, and the Henderson Space and Science Center, Radke said.

Marilyn Gillespie, executive director of the Las Vegas Natural History Museum, 900 Las Vegas Blvd. North, said attendance at the museum has been up 17 percent since January.

Gillespie said attendance has been steadily rising during the past couple of years, and about 85 percent of patrons are locals.

“I think more people are finding out about us,” Gillespie said. “Maybe some families can’t afford Disneyland this year, so they’re looking at things to do that are closer.”

Jim Johnson, spokesman for Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., said attendance has been up since January. The museum’s offerings, as well as the economy, have contributed to the growth, he said.

“We’ve added a large number of strong community special events,” Johnson said in an e-mail. “We also lowered our ticket prices a little over a year ago.”

But the story hasn’t been rosy for all of the state’s museum’s. In June 2009, the state’s seven museums were forced to close for 27 days during the summer to save money.

Some Nevada museums — including the Nevada State Museum in Carson City and Lost City Museum in Overton — reduced their days of operation from seven to four days a week and raised admission rates.

But Mark Hall-Patton, the president of the state’s museums association and administrator of the Clark County Museums system, said attendance is up at the Clark County Heritage Museum, 1830 South Boulder Highway, this year.

About 10 percent more people have visited since July 2009, a significant increase, he said.

Hall-Patton said museums are sometimes like libraries and parks — they’re more heavily used when people don’t have as much expendable income.

“These are free or relatively low-cost things that you can do with your family,” he said. “People are looking for local things to do.”

Ray Shubinski, board director and project manager for the Henderson Space and Science Center, said, “When you look at the museums that are doing well, they tend to be the ones that are interactive and engaging. I think this bodes very well for the product we’re going to offer to the community.”

The Space and Science Center won’t be complete for another five years or so, but the board already has installed an exhibit, “Ends of the Earth: From Polar Bears to Penguins,” at the Galleria at Sunset mall.

“You get an awful lot for your money when you come,” Shubinski said, adding that some people spend more than an hour at the exhibit.

It has been a great success, he said. The goal was to have 20,000 visitors this summer. It has already exceeded that number by several thousand and will likely top 25,000 patrons for its 12-week run, Shubinski said.

Radke said the Henderson Space and Science museum “will be a tremendous asset to the Vegas valley at large. I don’t think the valley can get enough of these institutions.”

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